Nigeria oil rig hostages freed

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The Independent Online

Five Britons held captive for five days on oil rigs in Nigeria have had been flown to safety, the Foreign Office said yesterday.

Five Britons held captive for five days on oil rigs in Nigeria have had been flown to safety, the Foreign Office said yesterday.

The Britons were being held with 160 others, including about 20 expatriates and seven Americans, after 50 armed youths invaded two rigs in the south-eastern state of Bayelsa demanding jobs.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We have heard from the High Commission in Lagos that the hostages were safely released last night. We very much welcome their release and we hope to get further details of their release later." He could not say where they were flown to.

An agreement had been reached on Wednesday with representatives of the hostage takers to free their captives the following day. But the representatives only made it back to the rigs in a remote part of the Niger River delta yesterday to order the releases.

A Shell spokeswoman said the occupation ended yesterday, but there was a delay while helicopters had to be flown in to get the workers off.

A Shell spokesman, Bisi Ojeideran, said the captives were employees of companies contracted by the oil giant.

Shell refused the youths' demands for jobs as security personnel and catering staff and for a £3,000 ransom. But it did agree to meet their representatives on 15 August to address their grievances.

Protesters regularly sabotage pipeline installations and take hostages from oil companies to call attention to the lack of development and abject living conditions in the Niger delta, where most of the country's oil is drilled.

Although Nigeria is the world's sixth largest oil producer, many residents of the delta live in poverty without paved roads, electricity or running water. In recent years, oil companies have begun aid programmes in the region.

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